THE BUS, after the 1929 painting by Frida Kahlo
By Katherine Lansing Davis
I. Our clothes are smoky from the city, sooty from the fiery factories and furnaces. The men always smoke and sometimes we breathe it deliberately, not afraid to dirty our lungs, hungry for the scent and taste, en vez de la comida Still the river water can be boiled and the clothes can be boiled. The sun boils our hair and heads through our hats and scarves. It is hot and relentless and necessary for cooking. We dry the chiles outside in large round metal pans. They are yellow and red and a few are green. If there is an old rooster who is nearly useless, then there will be Sunday dinner with him swimming in those chiles, surrounded by frijoles and arroz. Then we will wear our newest clothes, with all the buttons sewed on and the collars stiff with starch, but our sisters will wear their bangles and white blouses and eat very carefully so they stay clean. After we can smoke cigars and there is still a little tequila left from Margarita’s wedding last spring. The women will sit on the porch and watch the small ones dig in the garden with spoons looking for worms. In a week there may be fish in the river, coming down from the mountain stream which are not dried up, but always flowing. I will teach the boys how to bait a hook, and maybe we will fix the small boat and try to go out for bigger fish. But only the tallest boys can go out on the boat. muy pelligroso —they must be strong and smart. Now I sit on the bus and try not to look at Mario’s mother. Mi hermana is still angry with her, and I must not get in a conversation. I will be in the middle and this is the place where you are always poked at by both sides.
II. This red flows left like the gray smoke,
the boards are straight cut,
each dream fills a bag or a basket or a bundle…
The breeze is welcome on our backs
as we sit and wait to arrive.
No conversation is expected.
In fact any conversation could have
a sharp pointed edge which might slice
the tip of the tongue and draw blood.
We follow the traditions of
what is proper and rest in them—
sit in silence while the breeze
whispers all manner of desires
and damnable thoughts of jealousy
and judgment and injustice.
The only sweetness is the milk the baby suckles…
Yet in this road of unexpressed hopes,
perhaps it can be enough.
III. An angry red building catches
falling ashes from factory smokestacks—
feels as abused as the daughter
whose red scarf blows to the left in echo.
Lemon yellow above their heads,
dark brown slats hold up
straight-backed passengers. Milk flows
from the veiled mother, gives peace.
The war is still far…this day seems
as normal as the trees that line the road,
ordering the schedule of travel
and work and loving and dreams.
Each rides in undefined time,
the end is whenever they reach
the end of this line.